PROVO Bonnie Andrews knows what it's like to fuss with a formal gown just so she could go to a prom modestly dressed.
"I've lived the life and it's expensive," she said.
So she and her husband opened Mia Bella, a tiny boutique near Brigham Young University where she rents or sells stylish, modest dresses. Store hours are by appointment (call 801-318-7255).
She named the store after her niece, a high school student in Layton. Andrews' aunt runs a similar business out of her basement.
"This is very much a high school target," Andrews said.
She knows how teenage girls like to dress for formal affairs and the wishes of their mothers after teaching ballroom dance for two years at Timpview High in Provo. She buys from various dressmaking companies, then has them modified to meet her modesty standards.
"All of these dresses have sleeves," she said.
A native of Virginia, Andrews went through the modesty tussle in high school, where she and her mother struggled with finding the right dress, knowing they had to find matching material to create a more modest top or sleeves.
Other girls at her high school proms wore strapless dresses.
"Dresses are so expensive to wear just once," she said. "And even here in the valley they're immodest."
Dressmakers know they can sell strapless dresses here, Andrews said, because girls and their mothers will buy them, knowing they have more sewing to do.
"In high school, formals were such a headache," part-time employee Shalane Bennion said. "First you had to find the dress, then the material, then make (the sleeves or top.) Here's it's so easy. It's nice to see the girls ... get their dress on the first try."
Bennion is a BYU student from Chesapeake, Va.
Emily Baird works with the young women in her church and has seen the struggles they go through to attend a formal affair.
"I went through it in high school, too," she said. "You either borrowed a dress or had the neighborhood seamstress throw something together."
Rather than racks of the same dress, Andrews offers one of a kind. That's important to girls who don't want to show up at a prom with a dress similar to other girls, she said.
This prom season she is adding something new tuxedos for rent. For less than $125 a guy and his date can get a package deal, the tux and the dress, she said.
"We started small, but our vision is huge," she said.
So far, most of the marketing for her tiny, 700-square-foot shop has been word of mouth, but she's planning to put up a Web site and is testing several domains.
Last year the little store sold about 250 dresses. Customers can buy off the rack brand new or purchase one that has been rented at a discount. Price tags carry both the rental and sales price. Andrews rents a dress only a couple of times before she sells it.
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